Self

An Open Letter To Men Who Love Women Over 35 — This Is Why We Flinch When You Touch Us

Photo: Courtesy of the author / note written by a high school friend of the author's 
old photo of Joanna Schroeder c. 1994 lying over a note written by a teen girl about her assault

Author's note: This is a transcription of a Twitter thread I wrote off-the-cuff on Tuesday night. The response from women who experienced the same type of abuse have been overwhelming.

I will also be embedding some of the replies that moved me in order to show the universality of this experience.

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This is a message to men in relationships with women — particularly if you're with a woman over the age of 35.

There's something you need to know about your girl: 

Women our age — Gen X and older millennials — grew up in a time when girls were almost entirely unprotected from men and boys.

We grew up with a distinct sense that our bodies were public property. If we were lucky enough to make it to fifth grade unharmed, we quickly learned that bodily autonomy was a myth the first day we wore a bra to school, when boys ran their hands down our backs, looking for a strap. Then they were grabbed, pulled and snapped back — hard.

This was a big joke when I was little. Teachers didn't care, parents didn't care, boy and bully/mean girls did it. 

Go get a rubber band, put it around your wrist, pull it away 6 inches, then snap it back. That's what that is like — except also with humiliation. Wearing and needing a bra, was enough to justify the act of grabbing your new training bra and using it to physically harm you — something you are already probably shy about. 

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You did this. You grew that body. You asked for it.

So what happened if you fought back? What happened if you turned around and said "Don't touch me!", shoved the boy or told a teacher?

It would get worse. These boys love a reaction.

As we got older, walking through a school hallway likely meant your butt was grabbed, poked or slapped a few times every day. If you spoke up, shoved the boy back, or got mad, it would get worse. Then, you were a b*tch or a d*ke or stuck-up. Wh*re, c*nt, sl/ut. And nobody did a thing about it. 

Generation X and older millennial girls walked through the world utterly unprotected. Worse, blamed for our own pain. Of course, there are racialized dynamics at play that changed the power balance —  generally, a white girl would be protected if a boy of color was the one harassing her. 

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"Why can't you just be cool?" was a big thing I heard in high school when I shoved boys off me or yelled back at them.

"Why you gotta be such a b*tch?"

"You're no fun" 

Men, husbands, boyfriends your wives probably felt like prey in a hunting ground. They probably have ways they don't like to be touched or times they don't like to be touched or approached. They may feel a mix of love and shame when you look at them with lust or desire. Especially when they aren't in that sexy head space.

I know it's hard for husbands of women my age to be rejected — they want to be romantic, sexy, and loving. They want to sneak up behind us and wrap their arms around our waists. They want to treat us how they wish they could be treated — with lust and desire, an animalistic need at the forefront.

But for a lot of us, that doesn't feel safe. Remember, we were almost entirely unprotected and our bodies were often viewed as public property. But we are still sexual beings — so we may reach out for you and initiate. We may have been desirous and lusty early in the relationship, but why does that go away? 

Probably because we get out of that "lusty" mindset —especially as moms —and your out-of-nowhere advances remind us of the idea that our body is public property (at least in this house, or in this bed).

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Husbands, have you noticed that your wife has phrases, even casually-uttered ones, that you use during your arguments that set her off in ways you never expect?

Have you considered that this might be from unresolved trauma? Trauma she may not even realize she has? You were likely among the same generation as your wife.

That means you probably use the same turns of phrase as those boys who made her feel unsafe.

You may get a tone in your voice that reminds her of the boys who made her feel unsafe. Does your wife feel controlling, or always negative, or overly critical?

You probably say "Why can't you just have fun?"

"Why can't you just be cool?"

"You're no fun anymore"

Sound familiar? 

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If you hear this dynamic erupt in your conversations, remember this: 

She may have tried to be cool. She probably tried to be fun. And she likely learned that it made no difference.

Those phrases likely remind her of that powerlessness.

Can you blame her for being angry? 

Editor's note: If you are a survivor of sexual violence or harassment, help and healing are available. Free resources like RAINN (for people of any gender) and 1in6 (for male survivors) have support available 24/7.

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A word on the image used on this article: Along with a photo of me at age fourteen there is a handwritten note, written in class in 10th grade (1994) in which a friend of mine told me about the boy who sexually assaulted her. I found it recently, and that is one of the inspirations for this twitter thread. 

Joanna Schroeder is a writer and media critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Esquire and more. She is co-author of  Confronting Conspiracy Theories and Organized Bigotry at Home published by The Western States Center. She shares more on Twitter.

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This article was originally published at Twitter. Reprinted with permission from the author.